NAIROBI - An explosion ripped through a building full of small shops in downtown Nairobi on Monday, injuring at least 33 people, including a woman who said a bearded man left behind a bag shortly before the detonation.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said it was a deliberate act. Al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group from Somalia, has threatened to carry out such an attack.
“This is a heinous act,’’ Odinga said while visiting the scene of the blast. “They want to scare us. But we will not be scared.’’
The explosion sent smoke billowing out of a one-story building on Moi Avenue, named after Kenya’s second president. The blast peeled back the front corner of the building’s aluminum roof, shattered windows in the building, and scattered shoes, clothes, and other wares on the ground. A high-rise building with a glass exterior next door was largely untouched.
Speaking from a Nairobi hospital bed, Irene Wachira said a bearded man came to a nearby stall three times and acted as if he were interested in buying something. Wachira said the third time he came with a bag that he left behind. The blast occurred shortly afterward, she said.
Wachira, a vendor in the building, described the man as “Arabic-looking’’ because of his relatively light skin. A doctor said another person wounded in the blast said a Somali-looking man left behind the bag.
Police officials who first responded hesitated to blame terrorism, given the lack of shrapnel. Kenya Power ruled out an electrical fault as the cause. The national electricity agency said the building had no ground-mounted transformer that would explode and determined that all electrical connections to the building that would blow in a short circuit remained intact.
The police later released a statement saying that the cause of the explosion had not been established.
They are investigating the possibility that an improvised explosive device caused the blast, though investigators said it was unlikely a conventional bomb had been used.
Odinga said security would be improved downtown.